CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Chinese softshell turtles (Pelodiscus sinensis) have found their way in the waters of Pampanga, Bulacan and Bataan, preying on bangus (milkfish) and tilapia fingerlings in fishponds there, an environment official said on Tuesday.
Maximo Dichoso, executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Central Luzon, said he formed a task force to address complaints against the proliferation of the turtles in the region’s waters.
The turtles grow to a foot long and have made their way to Manila Bay through ballast water discharged by ships docking in Manila, Dichoso told Inquirer.
The Pampanga River, the mouth of which is straddled by the three Central Luzon provinces, drains toward Manila Bay. High tide and sea level rise push the water inland.
In a statement, Dichoso said the turtles are “growing in population” and are an “invasive alien species.”
The task force, he said, has been instructed to look into the turtles’ distribution, feeding habits and reproductive characteristics.
The six-month study will help the DENR make a policy on the quota for the collection of the turtles as food or export items.
Two residents from Minalin town and a businessman in Las Piñas City have obtained special use permits to harvest the turtles for export.
Citing data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the DENR said the turtle’s meat is a native delicacy in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Russia.
Dichoso said strong market demand for turtle meat in China and other Asian countries will open a viable business opportunity among wildlife collectors in the affected provinces.
Dichoso said he urged the public to report sightings and nesting sites of the turtles. He warned against propagating the turtles or raising these as pets.
Monitored in the 1990s, the animals have multiplied and are now considered a threat to local biodiversity and a pest in the multimillion-peso fishery industry in the three provinces, he said.
Pampanga leads in tilapia growing in the region, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The turtles have multiplied to a point where they have become a menace like the golden kuhol (snail) in the 1980s, said Arthur Salazar, deputy director for protected areas, wildlife and coastal zone management service, in the same statement.
He said the softshell turtle is carnivorous and aggressive, “preferring to forage at night to feed on fish, crustaceans, mollusks and insects.” Tonette Orejas and Jun Malig, Inquirer Central Luzon